Could Suzuki be answer Giants' lineup is looking for?


With the MLB lockout ending Thursday, there's now going to be an all-time scramble for free agents to find new homes.

The remainder of the offseason will be short and will take place with teams rushing to get in place for spring training. Dozens of well-known players are going to try and find new teams in a few days, and the odds are good that multiple huge stars are still taking meetings whenever pitchers and catchers report. 

It's going to be wild, and nobody is going to have more to sort through than Seiya Suzuki. The Japanese star was posted by Nippon Professional Baseball's Hiroshima Carp before the lockout and met with teams over Zoom, but he still likely needs to travel to the United States and experience all of this in person before making a decision. 

Suzuki is in a much different position than guys like Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant who have played for or against their suitors and know just about all they need to know about MLB facilities and possible future managers. There's a ton for him to look into, and a lot of that includes the Giants.

The Giants talked with Suzuki before the break and are likely to be right near the front of the line when bidding resumes. If you listen to some reports, they represent the front of the line

Suzuki would fill a need, putting a powerful right-handed bat in the middle of a lineup that lost Buster Posey at the start of the offseason. Yesterday I looked at how Kris Bryant might be the right fit. Today, a deep dive into one of the best hitters to ever make the decision to come over from Japan:

Why He's the Right Fit

There are a lot of on- and off-field reasons why the Giants have interest in Suzuki, but let's start with the numbers. They jump off the page, even accounting for the fact that he has spent his entire professional career in the NPB, which is the second-best league in the world but still well below the quality of play in MLB. 

Suzuki played 134 games last year and hit 38 homers with a .317/.433/.636 slash line. He had 89 strikeouts and 88 walks, and that strong ratio is something he has shown throughout his career. In nine professional seasons, he has just about 100 more strikeouts than walks. Overall, Suzuki has a .943 OPS in Japan and six consecutive seasons with 25-plus homers. He hasn't run much the last two years and his overall success rate isn't great, but he did steal 25 bases in 2019. 

It's difficult to figure out exactly how those numbers would translate, but CBS Sports took a look at Suzuki's batted ball characteristics and found that they were similar to guys like Bryce Harper, Pete Alonso and Austin Riley. Again, this isn't apples-to-apples, but his average exit velocity of 91 mph would have ranked third on the 2021 Giants. 

Defensively, Suzuki's calling card is a strong arm in right field, which is certainly a plus for any outfielder who has to spend time sprinting through Triples Alley. Putting him in right would allow the Giants to play Mike Yastrzemski primarily in center field and play him less often against lefties. A Darin Ruf-Austin Slater-Suzuki combo should theoretically give the Giants quite a bit of pop against left-handed starters. 

Suzuki is just 27 years old, so any long-term contract would line him up with the current roster but also with the upcoming wave of prospects. He should be in his prime when Marco Luciano, Luis Matos and the rest start to arrive, and sticking him in a corner outfield spot wouldn't block anyone. 

The Giants were a finalist for Shohei Ohtani, caught Yusei Kikuchi's eye, and reportedly are one of Suzuki's top choices, and that should come as no surprise. West Coast teams have often had the advantage with players coming over from Japan. This is a region with a large Asian-American population and in Taira Uematsu, the Giants have the Majors' first coach born and raised in Japan. 

Finally, there's perhaps the most important factor. In this great profile by Andrew Baggarly, Suzuki revealed that he has a strong interest in finding a good plate of nachos. Petco Park would be his best MLB bet, but San Francisco still has a leg up on just about every other suitor in the nacho department. The recruiting visit might as well take place in The Mission. 

Why He Might Not Fit

One of the most exciting things about Suzuki is the mystery. Is he an All-Star? Is he going to keep putting up those NPB numbers in MLB and transform a franchise, following in the footsteps of Ichiro Suzuki and Ohtani? 

The mystery is also the biggest potential downside. As smart as front offices have gotten, it remains really, really difficult to know how a player's game will look when he takes the step up to the big leagues. 

Ha-Seong Kim was last year's big name available from overseas and he hit .202 after the San Diego Padres gave him $28 million. Kikuchi had a 4.97 ERA for the Seattle Mariners after signing a huge four-year deal and he's now back on the market. Shogo Akiyama was a star in Japan but has a .595 OPS in two seasons with the Cincinnati Reds. Yoshi Tsutsugo put up even bigger power numbers than Suzuki and came over at a similar age, but he failed to stick in Tampa Bay and Los Angeles before putting up some good numbers late in the 2021 season with Pittsburgh. 

Every player is different, but the transition to hitting big-league pitching has been difficult for a lot of NPB stars and this time will come with a shortened spring training. It's not like the Giants have a lot of wiggle room. They were able to give guys like Yastrzemski, Ruf and LaMonte Wade Jr. such a long runway because there was literally no downside. If one of them struggled, he would end up back in Triple-A or DFA'd at no cost.

If the offseason's big lineup addition struggles to adjust to MLB pitching, the Giants are going to have to keep playing him and hope for the best, and that could prove to be the difference in a division that was decided by one game last year. Suzuki might be a star, but there's no doubt that guys like Bryant, Nick Castellanos and Trevor Story would be the safer choices for a 2022 club that expects to contend for a title. 

The Contract Projections

ESPN predicted a four-year, $48 million deal for Suzuki and MLB Trade Rumors went with five years, $55 million. Any contract will come with a posting fee, with the signing team also owing the Carp 20 percent of the contract's first $25 million, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million, and 15 percent of everything else. For instance, if the Giants gave Suzuki $50 million, they would owe another $9.375 million on top. 

There are two ways to look at this. No matter what Suzuki's final number is, it's going to shoot well past this front office's previous highs for a position player (Brandon Crawford's $32 million extension) or a free agent (Anthony DeSclafani's $36 million deal). The most the Giants have given a free agent position player is the $18.75 million deal Tommy La Stella signed a year ago at this time.

RELATED: Clark gets new date for Giants jersey retirement ceremony

So, Suzuki would be an outlier for this front office. At the same time ... it's not really all that much money in baseball terms.

Right before the lockout, the Marlins gave Avisail Garcia, a power-hitting right fielder, $53 million over four years. Bryant, Castellanos and Story might all end up doubling the current projections for Suzuki's contract, although we certainly don't know what he'll ultimately ask for. With the season Ohtani just had, Suzuki can rightfully shoot for the moon. 

There's a lot to like about Suzuki and the Giants are certainly interested, but if he ends up elsewhere it shouldn't be because they got outbid. If the Giants aren't going to shop at the top end of the market, this is the kind of contract that should fit them perfectly. 

Download and follow the Giants Talk Podcast

Contact Us